Monique Jenkinson, the multi-media, inter-disciplinary master mind of bio-drag-queenery is exhilarating. Swooping from otherworldly heights, Fauxnique, Jenkinsons alter-ego, transcends the barriers between performance art, comedy, camp and even elements of high fashion to navigate a path for her audience, that exports them away from the mundane into escapist fantasy, whilst simultaneously allowing and enouraging vital concepts of gender, sexuality and body politics to be discussed and experimented with.
I first became aware, as many have, of Fauxnique via her perfomances as a guest vocalist for electronic performers SilenceFiction/Never Knows, famed for their song, ‘Lipstique’. Its mesmerizing synthesized bubble and swagger as well as captivating video accompaniment starring contemporary drag luminaries such as Peaches Christ, Vinsantos DeFonte, Hoku Mama and of course, Fauxnique herself, applying their makeup from beginning to end, sneaking us a glimpse of what it takes to transform into their glorious characters, has garnered thousands of views worldwide through youtube.
I was struck not only by a fantastic song, but by the incredible aesthetics that Fauxnique employs/ed. As I dug deeper, a rich history began unfolding; the first cis-gendered woman to win the infamous Trannyshack, musician, accomplished modern performance and visual artist whose glowing reviews spoke for themeselves. The collected images and video works which incorporated aspects of opera, ballet, vogueing and perfected comedy timing, were and are inspiring…
ENOUGH TALKING MISS DIS! It’s time for FAUXNIQUE, to grace the stage….
Fauxnique) I started performing as a little ballerina in my tween years. I evolved into contemporary dance, and then emerged out of the refusal aesthetic of the theatrical dance scene (from the 70s) still holding strong in the 90s into the San Francisco drag scene via Trannyshack. Fauxnique is a Drag Queen – me (a bio female) performing drag as a drag queen. The name Fauxnique is a play on my name and the term ‘faux queen’ which is sometimes referred to as a ‘woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman’. However, for me, the drag queen transcends this gender binary. The nature of Fauxnique is mutable. She is not only a drag persona, but at kind of filter or lens through which I consider my particular concerns around the performance of femininity. Fauxnique often comes from a very, very physical place and a place of deep and strong emotion. She often appears in the guise of a faerie, butterfly or earth goddess and sometimes appears in the guise of one of her heroines. Fauxnique is a feminist – like myself.
D) Your performance aesthetic mutates gender and contemporary (as well as classical) images of glamour, into tools of expression that ultimately cross boundaries of comedy, drama and even the monstrous. Can you elaborate on your perception of these archetypes as well as your utilisation of them in your work…
M) I think that feminine power has historically been seen as monstrous and/or transgressive. This is what struck me most when I first became an avid drag fan. The very first night I attended the legendary drag club Trannyshack, it was ‘Riot Grrrl Night’. I was astounded. These were queens honoring feminist rebels. I was immediately hooked, and I really got the way in which drag plays with and highlights what we may find radical or monstrous about feminine power. I keep thinking back to my copy of RE/Search Magazine’s ‘Angry Women’ issue, which was a total reference tome for me. The cover was a graphic novel rendering of Medusa. And I think about a piece I made many years ago, my gateway to drag work, that I still bring out occasionally as part of my solo cabaret show Faux Real, about opera diva Maria Callas. Part of the soundtrack is an interview with her. At one point the opera-queen interviewer broaches the ‘inquiring minds want to know’ question of her weight loss, implying that someone made her do it. And she replies: ‘I was playing Medea then, and I thought to myself, well, the face is too fat & can’t stand it & I needed a chin for expression.” I died. This quote kind of contains how I formulate my relationship to the humor, comedy and monstrosity of drag. Clearly you need a chin to play a the archetypical child-murdering witch. Deep psychology and specific physicality.
D) Drag as performance art and as a method of reclaiming the body are twin themes employed by a plethora of visual artists from Cindy Sherman to Leigh Bowery, Claude Cahun and beyond. How do you view the cultural dialogue created by drag and its varied forms?
M) Big question. Drag is certainly both to me – a finely honed craft and a method of reclaiming the body. And you bring up some of my very favorite artists. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Leigh Bowery & Cindy Sherman – whom I kind of see as opposite poles of my heroine spectrum. As a classically trained dancer, I respect and delight in the rules and strictures of drag as performance. I love doing the assignment, I love getting the lip-synch, making sure the makeup goes over the top (and the eyebrows go well above the actual eyebrows) and out of the territory of pretty lady. I love honing my ultra-studied feminine moves. So drag as an art is very serious to me. And I have certainly reclaimed my body via drag. As a classically trained dancer, I sustained the very common damage of that vocation – the body dismorphia stuff – that drag and drag queens helped me get over. I have seen such a multiplicity of female bodies – and experienced my own body – embraced and celebrated in the drag world and that has been an experience of reclamation.
D) You’re no stranger to controversy, following your crowning as Miss Trannyshack in 2003, there was a small uproar that focused on the fact that you are a biological woman as opposed to a man performing the drag role. How did this affect your perception of the community and now, what do you view as your position within the world of drag?
M) From the moment I attended that first Riot Grrrl Night at Trannyshack, I felt like I was home. And from the time I first took to the stage there, I was treated as one of the family. Trannyshack was already upsetting the gender binaries and biases in drag. The only concern there was the quality and creativity of the performance: whoever you are and however you identify, be fierce and we will welcome you. My decision to participate in the Miss Trannyshack Pageant came with a tremendous amount of support. Other faux queens, or cisgendered female drag queens had participated before, but I was the first one to win it. I think most memebers of that particular community were ready for me to win. The audience was certainly with me.
In the aftermath of the win, I felt the love more than the uproar. But I think folks who heard through the grapevine that a woman won were more up in arms – the ones who weren’t there or weren’t part of that community. Heklina (the creator & queen of Trannyshack) really stuck up for me in those cases. I don’t know if she literally protected me from the fallout of anyone’s dismay, but no one went out of their way to express it to me personally.
One thing that did happen, was that I had quite a few queens come up to me, after seeing me perform sometime after the fact and say something to the effect of: ‘I was really put out when you won, but now that I’ve seen you perform, I get it.’ I’m a good drag queen. I do my homework, I work hard, I think about it a lot,and I honor my ancestors.
D) Returning briefly to aesthetics; you favour a high glamour, almost couture expression of styling when it comes to your use of cosmetics. This tessellates with a subcultural, punk and DIY approach to costuming. How have both the mainstream and counter-culture affected and influenced your visual extravaganza?
M) Fashion has always been vital for me. I was a teen in the 80s in suburban Colorado – not the most stylish situation. It was a time when, to wear something out there was really to declare yourself as outside the mainstream. We forget that now. Now we remember the fabulous looks of the 80s and think of Boy George & Cyndi Lauper as icons of the 80s. But people really did get beaten up at school for listening to that music and looking like that. In those pre-internet years, my lifelines out of the flat, square, Christian whiteness of that place were fashion magazines (my stylish mom had subscriptions to all of them) and cable television. Weirdly, we had this public access cable show coming out of Broomfield, the suburb where I lived (outside of Boulder, the big college town) called Teletunes, that predated MTV. And they played all the weirdest shit. That is where I came into contact with Devo, Kate Bush, the Buggles, etc. My other favorite show was ‘Style’ on CNN, which showed the runway shows and talked to designers. I would get up early on Saturday to watch those shows. And then later I would spend my babysitting money on the 2-month old copies of The Face sold at the one hip record store. That totally formed me. On Saturday I would watch a Valentino runway show and then a Snakefinger video and then cobble together something fabulous to school on Monday.
D) Further to classical images of glamour, ballet and opera have also featured in your live performances, for instance, in Faux Real. You contrast these often considered, romantic forms with comedy and sometimes sadness to brilliant effect. How do you design these pieces and also, why, as in the aforementioned piece, do you prefer to actively expose the process of building an immaculate image (a practice which many drag artists seek to oppose) and thereby draw attention to the application and maintenance of illusion?
M) Thank you for the kind words about the work!
I really came to opera and back around to ballet because of, and through drag.
So the short answer is, that I found the drag and camp elements in opera & ballet – of which there are many – and used them. There was tremendous freedom in returning to ballet – especially the rigors of pointe work – through drag, because no one expects a drag queen ballerina to have perfect ballet technique or to weigh 90 pounds. So I come from a place of understanding and love for ballet, but also an awareness of how over the top & ridiculous it can be.
The design, choreography and conception of a piece like Mimicry & Flaunting, in which I consider and work with the image of the queen of all divas, Maria Callas, came from a few sources, and it is my oldest piece. When I first started listening to Callas, inspired by Wayne Koestenbaum’s fantastic book The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality & the Mystery of Desire (the title from my piece also comes from this book) I came across an interview with her, and that really inspired the piece. Then I started thinking about the facial expression of the opera diva as a dance, and the way in which the performance of that dance is the improvisational element in a form in which everything else is so composed.
As for drawing attention to process, I have just always been, and remain, fascinated both with transformation and simple theatrical magic. I don’t think it makes the illusion any less magical. Or I think, somehow it lends depth.
D) What inspires this position?
M) The beginning of Mimicry & Flaunting in which I sit at a mirror that faces the audience and put on my Callas face, came out of necessity as it was the final piece in a solo show, so I had to change onstage and make it look interesting. The mirror bit was a piece of problem solving that became really integral to the piece.
D) In your work, ‘A Glamour’, you sought to unify practices such as makeup application and the arrangement of artifice with spirituality and meditation. Drag, which can at times be incredibly restrictive and focus largely on artifice, is not often considered spiritual. Do you feel that through the elevation of what many would consider mundane practice, i.e. costuming, makeup artistry etc. that we can also be spiritual or at the very least, imbue these ‘rituals’ with meditative significance?
M) Thank you so much for talking about this piece! I love what you see in it and your wording, so my answer might just be ‘yes.’
With A Glamour I did indeed seek to look at the transformations and totems of drag as part of a serious ritual. The clothing and accessories in the piece were a bunch of bangles given to me by a friend who had recently died (legendary Trannyshack superstar The Steve Lady), a beaded sweater that had belonged to my grandma that I wear ALL THE TIME and a raffia dress that falls apart. So there is a lot about ancestry, death, and presence. I am always aware of presence and live performance as ever-dying moments.
D) Further to ‘Glamour’ you often exalt movements of dance such as vogueing, associated with the LGBT community, by including them in performances that also utilise ballet and again, operatic scoring (‘Crying in Public’) always with a tremendous sense of humour of course, but a genuine affection and studied approach to these genres is obvious. What is it that draws you to these aspects of dance culture and why do you feel that it is important to include these in your live events?
M) Vogueing is an exalted form all on its own, and I am happy to try to serve it was well as I possibly can. I come at everything from an embodied place, so I am attracted to a huge variety of dance forms. When we talk about vogueing especially, we tend to focus on the sociopolitical aspects of the performance. While these are crucial, there is also tremendous artistry and technique there. That technique is serious and deserves to be recognized and honored. I also like to use tasks that present difficulty and change my state. I thought a vogue-ballet in soaking wet clothes in a puddle of water while attached to an aerial bungee cord would do that.
My using Vogue vocabulary with Vivaldi’s ‘Stabat Mater’ in Crying in Public was also partly my processing a thought and a feeling that I have a lot which is that if I had been born about 10 or 15 years earlier all of my friends would most likely be dead from AIDS. So I think I meant to honor my dead would-be friends. And then again, all my friends are not dead. So with that part I am also making fun of my own tendency to be maudlin & overdramatic. At the beginning, I say, in my best imitation of my friend Glamamore ‘Oh Mary! Enough! Quit your blubbering.’ Humor is essential to our survival.
D) How do you feel that these performances are interpreted by your audience, and how do you hope for them to feel when watching or engaging?
M) I am really lucky to have a mostly generous, game and intelligent audience. For the most part, they go along for the ride. I don’t necessarily want them to feel any one thing, and what any one person feels or gets out of it is really subjective, but of course, I want them to feel something. With my last evening-length piece, Instrument, I experimented a lot, and the drag elements were really just traces, so I may have lost some of my Fauxnique audience (one person boorishly & publicly told me so on Facebook), but most of them went out of their way to tell me how much they got out of it.
I think one of the jobs of contemporary art is to push the culture forward. That can sometimes run counter to entertaining and pleasing. Drag and dance can both and alternately fall into the categories of art and entertainment. I think good drag pushes the culture forward just like good contemporary performance.
D) Moving into music, you provided guest vocals for SilenceFiction/Never Knows/marc Kate, whose now iconic video, ‘Lipstique’ has been viewed by thousands of people all over the world! There must be more, tell us there is and also, tell us a little bit about the duo….
M) Oh my! The duo was both a one-off and ongoing, as Silencefiction (now known as Never Knows and also as Marc Kate) is the love of my life! I don’t want to disappoint, but I don’t know when you’ll see anything from us as a duo. He, however is coming out with a fantastic album in the Spring and you will LOVE his podcast ‘Why We Listen’. Listen to the episodes with Justin Vivian Bond, Joshua Grannell & Vinsantos! Find info at marckate.com
I am so proud of ‘Lipstique’ and it was such a pleasure to make. As a live performer, it was thrilling to just do something that can be seen and move forward without my body having to be present! I would love to do more work like that, and I certainly hope there will be more collaboration between me & Marc artistically. However, I think one of the cornerstones of our relationship has been that we are both relentlessly supportive of each other’s projects, and adamantly free about doing our own work.
D) Finally, what for you makes a great performance and what advice would you impart to those seeking to step into those stupendously high heels?
M) Lots of ingredients go into a great performance. The first step is DO IT. And then do it some more. Watch performers you admire with an eagle eye. A great teacher of mine just said that technique is knowledge, not merely repetition. I think that is really important. Go deep. Be honest. Ask questions. Try new things. And wear your own damn shoes, because you are on your own path.
D) BONUS ROUND Where can we catch you next, where can we buy our Fauxnique branded clothing, music and accessories?
Maybe I need to bring back the Fauxnique t-shirt. Or maybe a hankie for those who are easily moved, like myself?
I make regular appearances at Trannyshack, Some Thing, and various theatrical stages around San Francisco. I also perform nationally and internationally. I would LOVE to come to the UK again soon, so let’s make that happen! Also, I will be performing in March as part of Work More at SOMArts, curated by Mica Sigourney & Kolmel Withlove. I will be collaborating with Maryam Farnaz Rostami aka Mona G. Hawd on a piece that is a part of a larger group show paying tribute to the benchmark feminist collective/installation/show Womanhouse.
Join my email list at fauxnique.net and I will keep you posted.
A huge thank you to Fauxnique for taking part in this edition of Talking Toxic! I loved every second and every syllable! And, if like me, you want to keep up to date with all of the lovely ladys’ latest goings on, subscribe to the mailing list and buy a copy of Lipstique available on Amazon, now…
Bile and Bruises